We don't have any more soldiers to send to Afghanistan unless we take some out of Iraq.

# We don't have any more soldiers to send to Afghanistan unless we take some out of Iraq.

Military analysis.
May 5 2008 4:56 PM

# The Army's Math Problem

## We don't have any more soldiers to send to Afghanistan unless we take some out of Iraq.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to send 7,000 more U.S. troops—about two brigades—to Afghanistan, according to the May 3 New York Times. But there's a problem, which the story underplays: We don't have any more troops to send. The Army is in a zero-sum state: No more soldiers can be sent to Afghanistan without a one-for-one reduction of soldiers in Iraq.

Let's look at the numbers.

After the last of the five "surge" brigades goes home this summer, the U.S. Army will have 13 brigade combat teams in Iraq (the Marines have two more) and two in Afghanistan. One BCT serves as a "global response force," ready to respond to a small-scale emergency elsewhere in the world. One is in Korea. One is dedicated to homeland defense and security. One, at a base in Fort Riley, Kan., is training soldiers to become advisers to Iraqi and Afghan security forces. That adds up to 19 BCTs. All the other Army brigades are either between deployments or in their 12-month downtime periods, having fulfilled their 12-to-15-month deployment tours. (For a little more detail on these numbers, click here.)

And that's it. There are no more combat brigades left. To send one or two more brigades to Afghanistan would require taking one of five steps:

• Extend combat tours from 12 months to 15 months. The Army already did this, during the surge. Starting this August, at senior officers' insistence, soldiers will go back to serving 12-month tours. The longer tours have triggered great worry, at very high levels, that the Army was nearing the point of exhaustion and, without a letup, would soon break down. In short, Secretary Gates and the entire Army brass are adamantly opposed to renewing the 15-month combat tour.
• Lengthen the Marines' tours of duty. Marines are deployed for combat for just seven months at a time, but, as with the Army, there is no interest—either among senior officers or civilian officials—in extending them.
• Mobilize the entire Guard and Reserves. No president has ever done this, including Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, because it would put thousands of untrained, ill-suited people into battle and trigger widespread revolt on the home front.
• Sacrifice one of America's other missions. In other words, pull the brigade out of South Korea or eliminate the global response force (thus leaving us with no ability to deal with any sudden contingencies in the near future) or forget about homeland defense (good luck selling that one). This option, too, is a nonstarter.
• Pull one brigade out of Iraq for every brigade needed in Afghanistan.

This last option is the only one that's at all practical. There is no way to put more boots in Afghanistan without taking boots out of Iraq. As one senior Army officer put it to me, having it both ways is, "in a word, impossible," and anyone who thinks otherwise, he added, is "dreaming." Gates, by the way, is not among the daydreamers. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said in an e-mail today that Gates well knows that, fundamentally, "the only way he can add significant forces to Afghanistan, while keeping the President's commitment to reduce tour-lengths, is to continue the drawdown of troops in Iraq."